Joy at Work

Here’s a quick excerpt from my new book, Henry’s Christmas: A Story for Discovering God’s Joyous Work at Advent. ENJOY this chapter!

Back on the road, Zach was driving extra-cautious. After the incident last week, he couldn’t help but feel a bit apprehensive maneuvering through such a mix of sleet and freezing rain. He turned the knob on Henry’s old retro radio and started scanning. This required an old-fashioned, tiny turn of the knob instead of auto-scan.

“Better see if we can catch a weather update,” Zach explained. All he could find was Christmas music, so he landed the dial on one of Philly’s easy listening, pop stations.

“I find Noni’s proper manner and careful words to be so mysteriously captivating. What did you think of her?” Mags asked.

“She’s fine—very fine. It’s the great grandson I can’t stand.” Now it was out there, and not an ounce of question dangled in Mags’ mind regarding what Zach might think of him.

Mags feigned a smile. “Now, Zachary, have a little charity. He’s really not all that bad a fellow. I think you need to give him some time. Perhaps he’ll grow on you.”

“Perhaps you’re right.” Zach realized that he’d said too much. “But then even mold can grow on you.” He chuckled at his own wit but started quickly recalculating. “Anyway, his great grandmother’s description about joy was certainly intriguing. I’ve never thought about joy as a deep choice of gladness, rooted in God’s gracious work in and through us. And it just makes sense that such an attitude change is exactly what your dad is experiencing.”

“Yes, I think you’re right, Zach.” They both noticed that the wintry mix had begun to lessen in intensity. The traffic was moving at a bit steadier pace. Henry was handling the road famously.

“What’s amazing is also what Noni said about joy being contagious. It’s been true in my own life. Because your dad’s overall tone has been more joyful, my week has been more positive and productive. And this thought hits me, Mags.” Zach was speaking with excitement in his voice. “Joy is mentioned by Apostle Paul as one of the Holy Spirit’s fruits—one of those outcomes, a byproduct of living a Christ-honoring, loving, kingdom-oriented life.”

“That’s a sweet connection, awesome strands of truth weaving together,” Mags concurred. “And something else. Think about this! Oh wow—” She said it with that just-connected-the-dots, eureka tone in her voice. “Joy to the World. It’s possibly the foremost, seriously famous Christmas carol of all time.”

“Yep, great point, Mags.” Zach was nodding and still gripping the wheel very tight.

“But contemplate several of the key lines.” Mags softly sang: Let earth, receive her King…. No more let sin and sorrow roam, nor thorns, infest the ground…. He comes to make his blessing known…. far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found.” As she was singing it, Zach realized that she had inched her way across Henry’s bench seat. They were almost shoulder-to-shoulder again.

“Wow!” Zach exclaimed. “Several ideas are zinging my way. Here’s the kingdom anticipation all over again, much like Doc Ben and I were talking about in the church café. The King has arrived, so his kingdom has been inaugurated. Of course, it’s not fully here yet. There’s so much more to come! But it has begun.”

“I think I’m following, but you’re saying it like there’s more,” Mags coaxed him.

“Yes, here’s more of that impetus, a big-time motivation to reverse the curse. Doc Ben insists that it’s not simply a matter of Christ himself having come to create such a curse-reversing effect. Yes, the Father’s planning and sending of his son is certainly exceptional work. But as his kingdom citizens, it’s also now our role to work to accomplish royal new things that reverse the curse. We can be—we should be—bringing greater joy to the world as we actively lead in endeavors and serve others.”

“Oh, boy, I’m getting it!” Mags exclaimed. “I’m wondering how I’ve missed this all along.”

“Ah, don’t feel bad, Mags. We’ve all missed it. We readily enjoy the Christmas tunes, which are great, but we seldom slow down enough to actually process the biblical messages that can be seen in the lyrics.”

“So if we play this out, more people can experience this genuine, deep joy when you design really good buildings, and I care for pets and their owners with exceptional service. Right?” Mags was checking her trail of thinking. Zach was nodding and smiling.

“And the curse is reversed—more joy spreads across the world—as researchers discover new treatments for disease, as entrepreneurial farmers develop bright, eco-sensitive methods of producing even more food for the hungry world, and as teachers cultivate young minds.” Zach was on a roll.

“Of course, don’t forget, great car guys reverse the curse and bring a lot of joy when they turn wrenches, repair, and restore vehicles. Can you imagine our world today without the likes of a Henry?” Mags patted the dash, as if she were petting her favorite canine. Zach shook his head and rolled his eyes.

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“It is rather amazing,” Zach reflected, “to realize that every Christmas season puts up a great big sign—a virtual billboard, really—reminding us of how the King has arrived, and we can be busy doing kingly, joy-filled, world-changing work as citizens in the kingdom.”

Ironically, in that very moment, Josh Groban’s version of Joy to the World began playing on Henry’s classic, silver-knob radio. “Okay, what are the chances of that? Is that cool or what?” Mags chimed in enthusiastically. “Gives me goose bumps!”

“Odds are actually pretty strong that someone’s rendition of that song would be played during our hour-long trek out of the city, when you consider that after all, it IS Christmastime, Mags.” It was Zach’s extra-realistic sarcasm, at his finest.

“Okay, you don’t have to be such a killjoy, Zachary David. You, ever the rational, uber-analytical, would of course insist on ruining my moment.” She smirked and pushed away from him just enough to slug him in the arm. But then she moved even closer and put her head on his shoulder for the final stretch of the journey back to Valley Forge. In that moment, Zach concluded without a doubt that this evening was ending with immense joy.

There’s still time to get your copy of the full story, Henry’s Christmas—including reflection questions! It can be purchased through Amazon, CrossLink Publishing, Hearts and Minds Bookstore, and other favorite booksellers. For inquiries on purchasing multiple copies at a quantity discount for a class, small group, or gift bundle, please contact me directly at johnp@manorchurch.org. Big blessings & joy for your season!

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Brave and Beautiful Work with Words

Sara Bareilles’ hit song “Brave” boldly proclaims: “You can be amazing, you can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug . . . Say what you wanna say, and let the words fall out. Honestly, I wanna see you be brave.”

Sara’s lyrics provocatively remind us of the power of our words to accomplish some things rather wonderful. This should not surprise us when we consider that our Creator, the first and foremost worker, originally labored with skillful words. Genesis 1 paints a masterful picture of God’s extraordinary, skillful design of the world and humans. Marvelous to remember, his primary modus operandi was his word.

“And God said . . .” is the leading phrase. And at the culmination, on the sixth day, he created humans to reflect his very image.

My own hermeneutical training encourages me to understand this section of Sacred Writ as a blend of literal, historical account conveyed with beautiful, poetic utterance. Hence, God’s own work with words joins with the subsequent work of human writing, producing a powerful picture of words at work!

As an author and speaker in the twenty-first century, I am terrifyingly tasked with trafficking in words. Consequently, I can deeply resonate with Bareilles’ sentiments. There are times my words may be a weapon; other times, a drug. And many days, they fall out as just sloppy and floppy, rather harmless, hopeless, and ho-hum.

I am oh-so-grateful for the supportive, endorsing words of five different friends, oh-so-kindly supplying a thumbs-up for my recent book Henry’s Christmas: A Story for Discovering God’s Joyous Work at Advent.

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I’ll be featuring their comments in several upcoming posts, but I’ll share Chris Horst’s right now to get us started:

“The bookcases of most leaders are full of books on faith, work, and charity. But few of these books are as fun to read as Henry’s Christmas. In this festive tale, John Pletcher explores life’s most important questions—and our deepest longings—through the lens of a story. This spirited book is a fresh and engaging guide to the Advent season.”

—Chris Horst Vice President of Development, HOPE International, author of Mission Drift, and founder of dadcraft

chris-horstGreat thanks, Chris, for such a hearty endorsement! Reminiscing, I recall eight words, written atop a term paper’s final page during my senior year of college. The prof simply penned: “This is good writing! God can use you!” The day I read those words, they sank deep and did something very solid in my soul, spurring me to be brave, to dare to traffic in words.

Personal app: How will your words accomplish very good work today? How will you encourage someone, express gratitude, or verbally share something beautiful, bold, and brave?